Registering a copyright

In many cases, you do not need to formally register your copyrights, because rights automatically vest upon creation of the work. Regardless of whether you register your copyrights, however, you should provide a copyright notice. A copyright notice informs the public of the company’s claim to copyright ownership in the work, and can be used as a deterrent against infringement. Therefore, the company should make it a practice to include copyright notices on manuals, brochures and other documents (including source code) that are generally published or provided to third parties. A copyright notice includes the word “Copyright” or the C-in-a-circle symbol ©, the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the copyright owner.

Formal registration with the Copyright Office, while not required, does provide some advantages. If a third party infringes a registered copyright, registration provides access to statutory damages of $750-$30,000 per occurrence without proving actual damages, which can increase to $150,000 per occurrence for willful infringement. Further, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence of proof of ownership and validity of the copyright.

The filing fee to register a copyright is only $35 if done online, or $65 if filed by paper. Since the cost is relatively modest, it is often beneficial to register a copyright. But most companies do not file registrations for all works. Often, companies only file for formal registration if it is a publicly facing document or for computer code that is released to the public, and only for the original version and for major revisions of the document.